For resource and recreation professionals, understanding the agency you work for or with is critical. That knowledge will make you more effective. As an OHV recreation consultant who often works with federal and state land management agencies, I want to share my thoughts on one of the most eye-opening works of agency-related literature that I have read in recent years.
Written by Christopher Burchfield, The Tinder Box, chronicles how the Forest Service (with a special focus on Region 5) became host to one of the largest court-ordered social experiments in modern times.
The Tinder Box at Amazon.com
The book details the 1970s era ramp up to the July 1, 1981 Consent Decree. The Order by Nixon-appointee Judge Samuel Conti directed the Forest Service to implement an unprecedented gender parity hiring program.
The purpose of this review is not to champion or assail the merits of the Decree, but to note how the historic Gifford Pinchot-inspired agency mission of forest and resource management was shifted to creation of a Decree-specific bureaucracy.
The Tinder Box describes how this process evolved in early 1970s and continues on to this day with either overt, covert, and/or tacit support from Congress and over 6 presidential administrations.
Although I take umbrage with the author’s occasional disparaging comments about OHV recreation, his research does seem to substantiate what I have heard from agency employees over the last 23 years on how the Decree has contributed to agency dysfunction and lack of morale.
There are many characters in the book some of which I have worked with or talked to. Just a few folks mentioned are Max Peterson, Ann Veneman, Dale Robertson, Jack Troyer, Matt Mathes, Jack Blackwell, Jim Lyons, Mike Espy, Wally Herger, Dave Meurer, Jeff Applegate, Lynn Sprague, Corky Lazzarno, Ken Wolstenhom, Mary Coloumbe, Dan Chisholm, John Mica, Ron Stewart, Bob Grate, Robert Tyrell, Doug Leisz, Jack Ward Thomas, and Mike Dombeck.
You will also become familiar with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Maupin White Paper, Bernardi Consent Decree, Male Class Complaint, Thirtymile Fire, the 43%, and the Blue Book.
Given the impact of 40 years’ worth of Decree-inspired litigation and policies combined with an endless avalanche of environmental lawsuits, it is amazing that agency staff today are even able to sign an OHV event permit, complete a travel plan, construct a trail, or produce a map.
This is a must read for Forest Service employees (new hires, current, or retired) private sector recreation and resource professionals, congressional staff, grassroots leaders, and sister agency employees.
After reading this book, you will have a clearer understanding of the Forest Service and a better appreciation for the men and women who continue their efforts – despite the challenges - to serve the public and care for the land.
--- Don Amador
PS - Set aside a good block of time, since you won't want to stop reading it.